The Wiener Urtext Edition

Since its founding in 1972, the Wiener Urtext Edition has, with its superbly researched and prepared editions, made a name for itself as a forward-looking publisher of scholarly and informative urtext performing editions.

Appreciated by musicians, educators, scholars and amateurs alike, the Wiener Urtext Edition has a well-established reputation of vouching for a reliable urtext, with a catalogue that meanwhile comprises the major works of classical music ranging from the Baroque period to the early 20th century.

The fact that the original focus on keyboard music has broadened in the course of time to include literature for winds and strings has certainly done a lot to enrich the publishing program of the Wiener Urtext Edition, which now also features works such as Debussy’s Syrinx or Reinecke’s Undine Sonata as well as Bach’s Solo Cello Suites or Schumann’s Violin Sonatas.

Additionally the Wiener Urtext Edition publishes works apart from the common standard repertoire, for instance the Sonatas for flute, harpsichord (piano) and violoncello ad lib. by Franz Xaver Richter or the Sonatas for violoncello and piano by Carl Reinecke.

During the last years a few musical works could be rediscovered by musical research, e.g. the so-called Bolzano Sonata by Joseph Haydn or the album leaf Ahnung by Robert Schumann. They have been published in Wiener Urtext edition for the first time as well as the three versions of the Adagio from Mozart’s Sonata in C minor K. 457.

In addition to finding new material to incorporate into its program, the Wiener Urtext Edition accords high priority to the educational idea of introducing young musicians to authentic music-making. A milestone on this way is Wiener Urtext's new series Urtext Primo, which bridges the transition from piano tutor book to repertoire studies.

The objective of the Wiener Urtext Edition is to make musical works from the baroque to the early modern period available for practical use in critical editions, so-called Urtext editions. The following sections give more information about the Wiener Urtext philosophy and the Wiener Urtext tradition.

Our Philosophy

The Wiener Urtext Edition is a critical musicological edition for practical use and is distinguished from many other Urtext editions by comprehensive textual information in German and English and partly also in French.

The 'Preface' gives information on the work, its origin, its significance in musical history, and its provenance. The 'Critical Notes', in spite of the necessary brevity, give clear accounts of the nature of the sources and the editorial decisions. With 'Notes on Interpretation', assistance is provided for the musician on how to perform the music in the style of the period in which it was composed.

The musical text itself is prepared on the basis of precise examination of all sources by renowned musicologists. Well-known musicians and pedagogues contribute fingerings. You can read more about our editorial principles below.

The Principles of Urtext

  • Reliable musical text on the basis of the sources reflecting the composer’s ideas as authentic as possible
  • Significant text variants for perfomance practice directly presented as footnotes on the same page of music
  • Critical Notes based on the most recent scholarly research
  • Comprehensive Preface on the works’ history and transmission
  • Historically informed Notes on Interpretation
  • Useful fingerings for musical practice
  • Clearly printed, reader-friendly layout on high-contrast music paper
  • Page layout for practical use with convenient page turns
  • High-quality binding enables reliable and easy opening and page-turning
  • Sustainably printed with green power


Wiener Urtext and the Urtext tradition

The Wiener Urtext Edition was founded in 1972 by the publishing houses B. Schott´s Söhne (today Schott Music), of Mainz, and Universal Edition, of Vienna. The objective of this joint enterprise is to make musical works from the baroque to the early modern period available for practical use in critical editions, so-called Urtext editions. The essential aim is to offer a musical text based on the sources, free of later additions and alterations, which comes as close as possible to the intentions of the composer.

The standard musical literature of the 18th and early 19th century in particular has always suffered from faulty transmission and from adaptation to the vagaries of taste in vogue at any particular time. Many works, for example the Piano Sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert, appeared soon after their composition in faulty or deliberately altered printed editions. In the later 19th century, numerous compositions were disfigured with an abundance of additions (such as phrasing marks and dynamics), or even by direct interventions in the substance of the music itself. The musical text thus "edited" represented the subjective opinions of individual editors - then mostly famous performers - but no longer the intentions of the composer.

A striking example for this is the Piano Sonata Op. 109 by Ludwig van Beethoven, where many editions - including even some of the most recent - continue the bass octaves beginning in bar 65 of the second movement up to the end of bar 69. Admittedly, Beethoven himself had originally foreseen this in his autograph, but even before the engraving of the first edition, the bass doublings were again removed from the middle of bar 68 onwards. He probably intended by doing this to support the simultaneously proceeding diminuendo by thinning out the sound. Publishers who supplement the lower octaves in the relevant bars, making reference to the limitations of the keyboards of the pianos of the day, overlook, however, that Beethoven had already reckoned with the availability of the low E from the Sonata Op. 101 onwards, and that the limitation of the keyboard compass is thus no argument for octave doubling of the bass notes. The reintroduction of the bass octaves in bars 68 and 69 thus misrepresents Beethoven´s intention of supporting the diminuendo dynamics with the structure of the sound, making an authentic interpretation impossible.

The traditional so-called 'performance editions' continued to be produced well into the 20th century, even although the first objections were already being raised during the time of their greatest popularity. Thus, between 1895 and 1899, the Berlin Academy of Arts had a series of famous compositions, including the piano sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven, published under the title 'Urtext classischer Musikwerke' ('Urtext of Classic Musical Works'), with a musical text freed of all arbitrary ingredients. The term 'Urtext' was born, and was to be used from then on to designate all editions which are free of subjective additions and true to the sources.

Certainly, there was still a long way to go from these early attempts to our modern Urtext editions. One of the first to affiliate himself with this new way of editing was Heinrich Schenker (1867-1935). His studies of the original sources of the piano sonatas of Beethoven, most of all of the surviving autographs, became the basis of his now legendary Urtext edition of the complete piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven, which appeared between 1922 and 1934 in the Universal Edition in Vienna. Heinrich Schenker can thus be considered the forefather of the Wiener Urtext Edition. To him we owe an essential step, which cannot be overestimated as a precursor for the principles of the Wiener Urtext Edition.

At its foundation in 1972, the Wiener Urtext Edition was able, half a century later, to build almost directly on Schenker´s pioneering work. Its co-founder Erwin Ratz (1898-1973) had in 1945, following the rediscovery of important sources, comprehensively revised the Schenker edition of the Beethoven sonatas. Ratz is thus the connecting link in the tradition of Urtext editions which has been active in Vienna since the beginning of the 20th century.

After the devastating destruction of the Second World War, to which many valuable sources of musical works had fallen victim, a new conservationist mode of thought arose in musicology and musical practice. Under its influence, numerous complete editions were published and new and refined editorial methods were developed. These had a lasting effect on the generation of Karl Heinz Füssl (1924-1992) and Hans-Christian Müller (1935-1993), who took over the leadership of the Wiener Urtext Edition after Ratz´s death. They both worked as editors on renowned complete editions, and brought their wealth of experience as editors, musicologists and musicians into the Wiener Urtext Edition.

After the deaths of Karl Heinz Füssl and Hans-Christian Müller, the editorial direction of the Wiener Urtext Edition was taken over by Rainer Mohrs (Schott Music, Mainz) and Reinhold Kubik (Universal Edition, Vienna). Since 1996, the general editorship has been in the hands of the musicologist Jochen Reutter.

New findings of research and historically informed performance practice have influenced the editorial principles during the last decades. One of the major insights is the realisation that some composers (particularly of the 18th century) did not think in terms of a single musical text which would be valid for all time. Textual divergencies in the sources of a work (for instance in the works of Mozart) often document several equivalent versions of one and the same composition. Hence, in Wiener Urtext editions important variants are given in footnotes or ossias; largely differing versions of a piece are printed separately. On this basis musicians are able to make their own decisions.

As a consequence, Wiener Urtext, for example, gives all three versions of the slow movement of Mozart’s piano sonata in C minor (K. 457) in its revised edition. These versions came to light in 1990 when the composer’s autograph was rediscovered. In the new Wiener Urtext edition they have been published alltogether for the first time. Another example for the actuality of Wiener Urtext is J. S. Bach's Chromatic Fantasy. Wiener Urtext not only presents the work in its well-known version, furthermore the early version and a later one have been given; the latter has been transmitted in a manuscript copy by Johann Nikolaus Forkel, the first Bach biographer. This version not only seems to be more refined than the main version of the piece, but also shows a kind of note stemming clearly indicating the distribution of the fast passages on both hands.

Editorial principles like these demonstrate one of the main foci of the Wiener Urtext Edition: scholarly editing for the musical practice.